For Towson, the path is now clear. One more win, and the Tigers all but assure themselves a spot in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. A loss, and it’s most likely wait till next year.
No. 17 Towson helped shed some clarity on what had been a murky playoff scenario Saturday by taking care of business against winless Rhode Island, surviving an uneven first half to pull away for a 41-10 win before an announced 7,263 at Johnny Unitas Stadium.
Quarterback Grant Enders tied a career high with four touchdown passes and backup running back Dominique Booker, playing in his final regular-season home game, gained a career-best 181 yards on just seven carries, including an 83-yard touchdown run on the opening play of the second half. It was the second-longest running play in school history.
“We wanted to go back to what we do, and that’s running the ball hard and build off the play-action fake,” Booker said. “And that’s what we did.”
The Tigers’ third straight win sets up this Saturday’s showdown at first-place New Hampshire. With a victory, Towson (6-4, 5-2 CAA) likely will secure one of the 20 FCS playoffs bids, with an outside chance to also defend its Colonial Athletic Association title.
A loss next weekend, and an invitation becomes a long shot. The brackets will be announced Nov. 18 at 1:30 p.m. on ESPNU.
“I’m not in control of any of that stuff. We’re just going to go do as good as we can do,” Towson coach Rob Ambrose said. “Going into New Hampshire at the end of November is a very difficult thing to do. It’s going to be a war, and our guys will prepare for it. We’ll just see what happens.”
“We’ve got one more to go, and we’re excited to get a chance to play New Hampshire,” Enders said.
A year ago, Towson gained a first-round bye before losing a heartbreaker to Lehigh, 40-38, in the second round.
To put themselves in position for another run, the Tigers first had to dispose of a Rhode Island team that entered the day last out of 121 FCS teams in scoring offense.
The Rams (0-10, 0-7 CAA), however, gave Towson pause on their opening drive of the game, gaining large chunks of yardage on runs by Jordan Sabastian and taking a 7-0 lead on Bob Bentsen’s 14-yard screen pass to receiver Brandon Johnson-Farrell (Arundel).
Towson, however, quickly struck back, beginning its opening possession with a 24-yard run by Booker and ending it two plays later when Enders (Old Mill) started left, threw across his body and found tight end Cory Kirby for the tying touchdown.
Though Enders (19 of 28 for 231 yards) was under pressure for much of the first half, he led the Tigers on the go-ahead drive early in the second quarter. He kept the chains moving by completing a third-and-9 pass to Tom Ryan and a fourth-and-8 pass to Alex Blake before rolling right and hitting receiver Gerrard Sheppard (McDonogh) in the back of the end zone.
Ryan finished with seven catches for 109 yards.
But the Tigers left points on the field when kicker D.J. Soven missed the extra point, after earlier pushing a 39-yard field-goal attempt wide left.
After the uneven first half, Towson took the field in the second half and made a statement. On the first play from scrimmage, Booker took the handoff, cut back behind a vicious block by Sheppard and took off 83 yards for a touchdown, extending the lead to 27-10.
“We found a way to tighten it back up and get down what we needed to get done against a group of kids that were not going to lay down against us,” Ambrose said.
When Enders connected with tight end James Oboh on an 18-yard touchdown pass midway through the third, the Tigers’ lead had ballooned to 34-10, and the rout was on.
“We just ran into a very good team that’s playing with purpose,” Rhode Island coach Joe Trainer said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun